I was having a tough time. Last month was a hard one as a parent, because my child was hurting and I couldn't fix it. It left me exhausted and emotionally raw.
While in that fragile state, I read two completely unrelated books that combined to hit me hard.
The first was The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. It has a cheerful blue and yellow cover that asserts that O, The Oprah Magazine called it "funny and irresistibly exuberant." It looked and sounded like the light, mindless distraction I needed.
It wasn't. I hadn't bothered to read the back cover before I dove into it, so I didn't realize it was a memoir until I started reading. I should have stopped when I found myself teary-eyed at the three-page prologue, which concluded with the author's calling her parents to tell them she had cancer.
"And that's what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork--a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns--clearly indicates you're an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you're still somebody's daughter."
It made me weepy at the hair salon the first time I read it, and it makes me weepy now.
The Middle Place is funny and (thank goodness) not a tear jerker despite the cancer, but its central theme hit me in a tender spot that week. Corrigan's "middle place" is where I happily reside--I am both parent and child. I still call home when things get hard.
I called that week.
When I spoke to my parents the following week, things were a little less hard. Remarking about the previous dark week, my dad said that, had they not been expecting visitors at the time, he would have put my mom on a plane to visit me. He could tell I needed it.
I was suffering because I couldn't make my child feel better, but my parents knew how to make me feel better. I'm right in the middle, both giving and taking. It's a nice place to be.
Once I got through The Middle Place and the worst part of my month, I decided I was ready for something a little heavier than "funny and...exuberant." I picked up Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End. Gawande is a practicing surgeon, and he questions how the medical profession can improve end-of-life care, not only extending life but enhancing it.
While Gawande talks at the policy level about things like assisted living and hospice, I was touched most by his advice for those making end-of-life decisions for themselves or family members. Being Mortal appealed to my pragmatic nature. I accept that the end of life will come for each of us and believe we should plan accordingly. But combined with the memoir I'd just completed, this book also blindsided me.
What I hadn't accepted until then was that there likely will come a day when my parents rely on me for help rather than the other way around. Although I will gladly play that role, I find the idea rather terrifying. Someday, I will really, truly have to be the grown-up.
I like the comfort of the middle. I like knowing that, when the sump pump fails, my first call is to ask Dad, "What do I do?" I like knowing I can misplace the cupcake recipe, because Mom will email it to me yet again. And I really like having a grown-up to call when I'm having a hard time being one myself.
Fortunately, I have no reason to think I'll need to be a complete grown-up anytime soon. When I called to ask advice about replacing a screen door, my dad's answer was simple, "Wait until I visit next month."
I have. And I've confined my reading to fiction. It's easier on my brain.